Meanwhile in California: Derrick Brown

1. Scooter Magoo (musician Scott Huckaby) leading an opening sing-along which touched on, among other things, his yearning for a brachiosaurus friend. 2. Derrick reading his Valentine the Porcupine Dances Funny with its polka-dotted illustrator Jennifer Lewis in front of a rapt, drooling audience.

When one of your favorite poets and indie publishers (whose roster includes six poetry slam champions among other immeasurable talents) starts writing children’s books, you start asking some God damn questions.

Months ago I happened upon his press, Write Bloody, at a local independent record & bookstore, and the anthology he edited, The Last American Valentine, has since been passed around between more friends than I can count. Nearly any author this guy gets behind I cant help but connect to, and it’s strange when hope takes you by surprise. This may be why so many parents at Gatsby Books were willing to share his voice with their children, and since Derrick has a backbone in performance, even touring as the opening act/poet for alt rockers Cold War Kids, they knew he could handle the crowd.

Sipping free coffee calmed by a creamer endorsed by real Indians from Michigan, I tried my best not to look like the fattest fruitcake in the room while I took pictures of children from a distance. After an opening sing-along from ex-Freeze Peach bandmate Scott Huckaby, Brown announced that the reading would be followed by a dance party and started to read “I Love You Whale,” complete with silly voiced repeat-after-me’s and Huckaby’s adding drama on the black & whites. It’s about a boy who meets a whale named Ahooogah, and thus learns the difference between words and pure experience. “Her name is not whale, Dad, it is a free and wonderful sound.”

Knowing the attention span of his audience, Brown moved to his new release Valentine the Porcupine Dances Funny, painstakingly cut-and-paste-illustrated by Jennifer Lewis, and yes, she is a raging ray of sunshine. Click here to see a time lapse of her book-making.

“Here at Write Fuzzy, we’re all about friendship.” Brown declared. “I wrote this when I was thinking if I would ever find someone who danced as weird as me.” That fear of dancing can be a real thing when you’re young, God knows I thought of it as the black death. Though many kids joined the dance party after the reading, there were still many who opted to push their noses into the crooks of their parent’s arms and legs, followed by parental explanations: weird because they “dance at home all the time.” The book ended with this:

“Valentine said,
I knew that if I waited,
I would find a special friend
to laugh between the butter flowers
and dance along the wind.”

Your young psyche really could have used some of that, huh? If yes, here’s Write Fuzzy & Write Bloody’s online store.

–David Ohlsen, an LA native, received his BA in Creative Writing at UC Riverside and is a new contributor to Electric Dish.

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